Glutathione & lung health - 6 things you can do to support lung function

On August 20th 2018, metro Vancouver air quality was calculated as worse than New Delhi, India. This is not the first time that this has occurred, nor will it likely be the last. Hazy, smoke-filled skies blanket the province in what looks like will be the new normal for summers to come.  Large wildfires are ripping their way through British Columbia, and while not everyone is having to deal with evacuation orders or losing their livelihoods (my thoughts and prayers are with them), we are all having to protect our health, and take care to limit the amount of smoke, particulate, and air pollution we are exposed to.

            The specific health effects of wildfires are not widely known, as few studies have been able to quantify, with certainty, the particular emissions from those wildfires[1]. Something I predict will change as the frequency and intensity of these wildfire seasons increase, more studies and measurement tools will be put in place. What we are more certain of though, is the Air Quality Index (AQI), and how it can impact more sensitive populations. Depending on your age or situation, you may be more vulnerable and should heed the precautions. People with pre-existing cardiopulmonary conditions, the elderly, infants, smokers, and of course our hard-working firefighters are some of the most vulnerable.

            When it comes to the wildfire smoke, it is not just smoke from wood burning, but harmful particulates and volatile organic compounds. It is estimated that wildfire smoke is composed of thousands of individual chemical compounds and its composition depends on the fuel type, temperature of the fire, and the wind conditions[2]. Fine particles have been observed to cause changes in lung functions, leading to increased cardiorespiratory conditions and issues[3].

            As you may have noticed, and more so as the smoky days continue, is that you might feel some of these cardiorespiratory symptoms. These include anything from increased fatigue, difficulty breathing with mild exertion, to a cough or even asthma attacks. Listen to your body and if you are experiencing severe symptoms call your healthcare provider or 911.


1.     Reduce the amount of time you spend in the smoky area, if possible. Avoid vigorous exercise outdoors.

2.     Keep indoor air as clean as possible – Use a HEPA filter to reduce indoor air pollution. Avoid smoking tobacco, using wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, opening windows, burning candles, incenses or vacuuming.

3.     Increase anti-oxidants and detox supporting foods in your diet. – Lots of colourful fresh fruits & veggies, especially dark leafy greens, brazil nuts, and foods with lots of Vitamin C.

4.    Consider purchasing a respirator or dust mask - N95 respirators are filter masks that fit over the nose and mouth. When properly fitted, an N95 respirator can filter 95% of smoke particles. However, N95 respirators do not filter toxic gases and vapors.

5.     Stay hydrated! - Make an extra effort to drink more water – This helps your body flush things out, keeping your mucous membranes moist, helping filter out particulate matter and promoting elimination of any acquired toxins.

6.     Nebulized Glutathione – Glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants in your body and especially in your lungs. Inhaling it through a nebulizer (a device that turns medication into a mist so you can inhale it), can deliver a dose to your lungs and help your tissues repair and offset the damages of inhaling "not so great" things. Supplementation during periods of oxidative stress can help to reduce the oxidant load[12]. (keep reading more about this service below).

            Fine particulates (or particulate matter - PM) can reach the bottom of your lungs and if not sufficiently cleared may enter the blood stream or remain in the lung, resulting in chronic lung disease[4]. Changes in your lung health can occur with exposure to any various types of toxic inhalants. This is where antioxidants come into play and are very important.

Chronic irritant exposure recruits different types of white blood cells to the lungs, resulting in progressive damage from oxidative stress and inflammation[5]. Oxidative stress occurs when antioxidant mechanisms are overwhelmed, thus resulting in reactive-oxygen species (ROS) levels rising, which is when damage may occur[6].  ROS are unstable derivatives of oxygen and can seriously damage living cells if formed in significant amounts (oxidative stress). Antioxidants are substances that react easily with ROS and thus keep ROS formation to a minimum. Antioxidants are our defense mechanism during periods of oxidative stress. Examples of circumstances that may cause serious oxidative damage include infection, inflammation, certain metabolic abnormalities, the over consumption of certain drugs, exposure to intense radiation, and/or repeated contact with certain environmental contaminants (eg tobacco, or wildfire smoke)[7].

Glutathione (GSH) is one of the major antioxidants in lung tissue[8]. Cigarette smoke is known to deplete GSH in the airways by irreversibly degrading it to glutathione-aldehyde derivatives[9]Glutathione in the tissue of the lower respiratory tract is thought to be the first line of defense against oxidative stress[10]. Alterations in the lung tissue and lung glutathione metabolism is widely recognized as a main feature of inflammatory lung diseases[11].

Glutathione can be inhaled directly (nebulized) to the lungs and increases levels in the lung tissue for a significant duration[13]. Oral or IV glutathione is not as effective for treating lungs as the nebulized glutathione.

Nebulized GSH can be used for:

Cystic Fibrosis
Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis
Chronic Otitis Media with Effusion
Farmer's Lung
Chronic Rhinitis
Chronic Sinusitis
Chronic Congestion
Upper and Lower Respiratory Tract Infections
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder

GSH inhalation was shown to produce clinically meaningful results in the majority of diseases that were studied[14], by improving clinical markers of respiratory function[15].

Prousky, J. (2008). The Treatment of Pulmonary Diseases and Respiratory-Related Conditions with Inhaled (Nebulized or Aerosolized) Glutathione.  Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,5 (1), 27-35.

Prousky, J. (2008). The Treatment of Pulmonary Diseases and Respiratory-Related Conditions with Inhaled (Nebulized or Aerosolized) Glutathione. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,5(1), 27-35.

In the coming weeks, I will begin to offer nebulized glutathione treatments for my patients. Each treatment takes between 15-25 min. The cost of each session will vary depending upon what was included in the treatment. The dosage of glutathione is determined based on the condition being treated and that dosage may change from treatment to treatment. The cost is approx. $35-$60. Typically, treatments in the beginning are required 1-2 times per week for 4-6 weeks eventually working towards a maintenance treatment plan. Maintenance plans will vary but most people require treatment as often as once every 2-6 weeks, but it completely depends on what condition and state you are in.

In terms of side effects, glutathione is very safe. Some people will experience mild coughing and an unpleasant sulfur odor. However, for those who are sulfite sensitive, glutathione is contraindicated. If you aren’t sure if you are sulfite sensitive, sulfite strips can measure your urine. Those who test positive for sulfites should not use glutathione.

For more information on how to manage smoke exposure and/or to book an appointment, click below or call 1-778-252-0702 and leave a message.



Header Photo Credit: Dave Moorman

[1] 2 3 4 Youssouf, H., Liousse, C., Roblou, L., Assamoi, E., Salonen, R., Maesano, C., . . . Annesi-Maesano, I. (2014). Non-Accidental Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,11(11), 11772-11804. 

[5] McCance, K. L., & Huether, S. E. (2006). Pathophysiology: The biological basis for disease in adults and children. St. Louis: Elsevier Mosby.

[6] 7 McKee, T., & McKee, J. R. (2017). Biochemistry: The molecular basis of life. New York: Oxford University Press

[8] Gaby, A. (2017). Nutritional medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.

[9] Toorn, M. V., Vries, M. P., Slebos, D., Bruin, H. G., Abello, N., Oosterhout, A. J., . . . Kauffman, H. F. (2007). Cigarette smoke irreversibly modifies glutathione in airway epithelial cells. American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology,293(5). 

[10] 11 12 13 14 15Prousky, J. (2008). The Treatment of Pulmonary Diseases and Respiratory-Related Conditions with Inhaled (Nebulized or Aerosolized) Glutathione. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,5(1), 27-35.